Clark on Sport

 
 

With success in the International Rules, but Cork’s hurler’s failure in dressing-room decorum, Michael Clark has mixed emotions about the GAA this fortnight…

Ireland’s well-deserved victory over Australia in the International Rules series last week served to rehabilitate relations between the GAA and AFL. The two matches served up fast and exciting action with hardly any of the naked aggression and dangerous play that marred the last two series. It must be admitted that if anything, this year’s matches erred on the side on tameness. Both sets of players were so assiduously well behaved that one almost yearned for the occasional dust-up. However, the entire international concept was a sickly patient that could well have died had any unsavoury incidents taken place.

Any attempt to mesh two different sports into one contest is bound to be difficult. Gaelic Football and Australian Rules Football agree on very few things; they employ a different number of players, different playing areas, different modes of tackling, different duration of game, different scoring systems and of course, most importantly, they can’t even agree on the shape of the ball. Indeed, the only tangible similarity between the two sports is that handling of the ball is allowed.

Yet somehow, an engaging sport that can be played competitively by professional and amateurs alike has been created, thus giving an international outlet to sportsmen who would otherwise be confined to the domestic arena. I’m pretty sure that all the participants in this year’s series will be grateful that the administrators from both hemispheres put aside their differences, challenged the hectoring begrudgers and showed faith in International Rules.

For those who feel that the rules have been skewed too far in favour of the Irish players, it must be remembered that the tackle employed in International Rules is probably as alien to the Irish players as the round ball is to the Australians. Indeed, the efforts made by Irish players to avoid being tackled shows what little appetite they had for the physical affections of Herculean professional sportsmen. The cheeky soccer skills employed by Ireland thwarted the larger but slower Australian behemoths. All-in-all, Sean Boylan’s men showed that fast skilful players can beat sheer physical intensity as long as foul play is carefully monitored.

After the thrashings of 2005 and 2006, Ireland’s narrow victory has secured the short-to-medium term viability of the international project. The outcome was in the balance into the final seconds and the 80,000 or so spectators who viewed the two matches in Perth and Melbourne were likely satisfied. The critics will rightly say that International Rules and Gaelic Football are very different animals but the critics’ endgame is the elimination of any realistic prospect of representing one’s nation. This is for a cohort of players who devote themselves to the sport that they love for no payment. Sean Kavanagh, Graham Canty and a host of others showed themselves worthy of adulation in the same vein as Shay Given, Robbie Keane, Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell in their international exploits.

The GAA is rightly proud of its role in history as a means of self-expression for Irishmen and Irishwomen. The association is more than a motley collection of clubs and counties; it is a uniquely Irish experiment, melding culture, nationalism and sport. Elite Gaelic Footballers deserve the opportunity to represent their country in sporting combat. Long live International Rules!

~~~

As I praise the GAA in one paragraph, I am forced to criticise a part of it in the next. My point of consternation: the disconcerting manifestations of ‘player power’ as regards managerial appointments. As usual, the bad guys hail from the Rebel County. Cork hurlers have once again embarrassed themselves as they seek the dismissal of their manager, Gerald McCarthy. The Cork hurling dressing room has seemingly devolved into a nest of vipers, where destructive cliques of egotistical senior players seek to undermine those in authority.

Clearly, Gerald McCarthy has not been the most successful manager in Cork hurling history. Five Championship defeats and no Munster finals in two years is hardly the stuff of legend. However, in a democratic, voluntary organisation, so long as the manager enjoys the confidence of the clubs and the county board, he deserves respect and the players should submit, however reluctantly, to his instruction. It seems that some Cork players feel that only they should wield selection power. Of course, players’ feelings should find some accommodation in any successful sporting enterprise but no sport would contemplate the elimination of managerial authority.

I found one incident of insubordination especially galling. In one game, Donal Óg Cusack, the Cork goalkeeper was told by McCarthy to stop taking short puck-outs in the wake of a number of unsuccessful attempts. Cusack took great umbrage at this instruction, feeling that puck out strategy should be the exclusive preserve of the goalkeeper. Imagine a sportsman’s prospects were he to defy Alex Ferguson or José Mourihno in such a manner. This crass display of arrogance rightly resulted in a showdown with management but needless to say, Cusack’s petulance received affirmation from senior players like Seán Óg Ó hAilpín.

Quite why Gerald McCarthy wants to remain as manager in these circumstances is somewhat mysterious, but I admire his stand. If people don’t want to play under him, it is their right to remove themselves from the county panel. I am sure that it won’t be difficult to find thirty new willing hurlers to represent the county. Christy Ring and Jack Lynch would surely be less than impressed that dressing room politics could somehow dissuade a man from donning the red and white.

~~~

It is not a good time to be an Arsenal fan. The Gunners now languish six points behind Premiership leaders Chelsea and look to be well off the pace. Most disappointing is the calibre of the teams that Arsenal have dropped points against. Fulham, Hull City, Sunderland, Tottenham Hotspur and Stoke City are all fine football teams but they should not derail the hopes of a team that aspires to greatness. If Arsene Wenger’s men fall at those lowly hurdles, how can they even dream of competing against the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool and dare I say it, Aston Villa?

Arsene Wenger is a great man with an immense intellectual understanding of football. His teams have wowed neutrals with an exhilarating style of play that can be genuinely inspiring. However, I must reluctantly conclude that the prime role of a manager is to guide his charges to victory, not to an elusive footballing utopia. Arsenal last won a trophy in 2005; that is simply not good enough. It greatly saddens me that I feel compelled to write the next sentence. Arsene Wenger must go.

Advertisements